Empirical, Conceptual, and Practical Issues

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Total Quality Management: Empirical, Conceptual, and Practical Issues

J. Richard Hackman
Harvard University

Ruth Wageman
Columbia University

In recent years, total quality management (TOM) has become something of a social movement in the United States. This commentary returns to the writings of the movement's founders-W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Kaoru Ishikawa-to assess the coherence, distinctiveness, and likely perseverance of this provocative management philosophy. We identify a number of gaps in what is known about TOM processes and outcomes and explore the congruence between TOM practices and behavioral science knowledge about motivation, learning, and change in social systems. The commentary concludes with a prognosis about the future of TOM-including some speculations about what will be needed if TOM is to take root and prosper in the years to

come."
It has now been a decade since the core ideas of total quality management (TOM) set forth by W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran. and Kaoru Ishikawa gained significant acceptance in the U.S. management community. In that decade, TOM has become something of a social movement. It has spread from its industrial origins to health care organizations. public bureaucracies. nonprofit organizations. and educational institutions. It has become increasingly prominent in the popular press. in the portfolios of trainers and consultants. and, more recently. in the scholarly literature.' Institutions specifically chartered to promote TOM have been established. and a discernible TOM ideology has developed and diffused throughout the managerial community. And. in its maturity, TOM has become controversial-something whose worth and impact people argue about. Some writers have asserted that TOM provides a historically unique approach to improving organizational effectiveness, one that has a solid conceptual foundation and. at the same time. offers a strategy for improving performance that takes account of how people and organizations actually operate (Wruck and Jensen. 1994). A more skeptical view is that TOM is but one in a long line of programs-in the tradition of T-groups. job enrichment. management by objectives. and a host of others-that have burst upon the managerial scene rich with promise, only to give way in a few years to yet another new management fashion. In this commentary, we provide a conceptual analysis of © 1995 by Cornell University. 0001-8392/95/4002-0309/$1.00.

TOM that places these competing claims in perspective. We ask whether there really is such a thing as TOM or whether it has become mainly a banner under which a potpourri of essentially unrelated organizational changes are undertaken. We document how TOM activities and outcomes have been measured and evaluated by researchers and note some significant gaps in what has been learned. We explore the uneasy relation between behavioral processes that are central to TOM practice and mainline organizational scholarship about those same processes. And we conclude with an overall assessment of the current state of TOM theory and practice. including some speculations about what may be required if this potentially powerful approach is to take root and prosper in the years to come. 309/Administrative Science Quarterly, 40 (1995): 309-342

• e gratefully acknowledge the W
assistance of Cathy Sirett in conducting library research for this commentary. We do not provide here a comprehensive review of the large and rapidly growing literature on TOM. For a sampling, see Jablonski (1992), Krishnan et al., (1993), Sashkin and Kiser (1993), and the July 1994 special issue of the Academy of Management Review (vol, 19. no. 3) on "total quality."

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOM? As is inevitable for any idea that enjoys wide popularity in managerial and scholarly circles, total quality management has come to mean different things to different people. There is now such a diversity of things done under the name...
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